Volunteer gets 'high returns'

Investment banker Kevin Fernandes has traded in his three-piece business suit for a pair of camouflage pants, T-shirt, work gloves and turban towel.

BY P.J. HELLER | POINCIANA, Fla. | August 19, 2004

"I think it’s only right that I help them out in their time of need."

—Kevin Fernandes

Investment banker Kevin Fernandes has traded in his three-piece business suit for a pair of camouflage pants, T-shirt, work gloves and turban towel.

And instead of carrying a briefcase filled with financial documents, today he’s toting an electric-powered chainsaw and a large water bottle.

Fernandes is just one of the myriad people across central Florida who has turned out to help friends, neighbors — and in some cases, complete strangers — affected by Hurricane Charley.

Fernandes is simply doing what he can as an individual to help the community where he has lived on-and-off since the late 1980s.

Working under a sweltering Florida sun, the 28-year-old Fernandes is busy attacking a huge oak tree that is down in the front yard of his elderly neighbor’s house. Wood chips fly everywhere and stick to his sweaty arms, face and body.

“This is the most exercise I’ve ever gotten,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve never worked this hard in my life. I have callouses where I didn’t even know I could have callouses.”

Just a few doors down, what remains of his red Kia automobile sits shattered in his driveway, the victim of Hurricane Charley, which lashed central Florida with 145 mph winds. At least 22 people were killed across the state when Charley made landfall on Friday the 13th.

Fernandes sees nothing unusual in helping his neighbors patch their roofs — his still leaks despite his repair efforts — or cut and remove downed trees in their yards.

“I see a lot of people taking advantage of people out here,” he says. “Some of these people are really good folks. They supported me through my endeavor of trying to become an investment banker. . . I think it’s only right that I help them out in their time of need.

“Most times in life when things hit hard, there’s not always a lot of people around to help you,” he explains. “And at the time you need them the most is when you can’t find them.”

He says that’s pretty much been the case with the response he’s seen to the storm.

“There are some individuals who you would not have expected to help [but who did],” Fernandes notes. “And there are some you would have expected to come to your aid who did not.”

Either way, he says it was simply in his nature to offer whatever assistance he could to his community.

“This is a beautiful community,” he says. “I left Wall Street making a lot of money just to come back here and establish something in my community . . . I love my community. I love my surroundings. I love the people I'm surrounded by.”

He admits he wishes he could do more to help his neighbors.

“I wish my bank account was large enough to just cut checks to a lot of these people,” he says. “Unfortunately I'm not in that position. But I still have two arms, two legs, two hands and two feet and I'm still able to help people out, so that’s what I'm able to do.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he adds. “The things you learn in Boy Scouts do help.”

Fernandes said he left Poinciana for about seven years to pursue his dream of becoming an investment banker on Wall Street. He returned here in 2002 having achieved that goal and opened Fernandes Financial in Poinciana.

He came home not long after the attack on the World Trade Center. He says he was directly in front of the buildings when they were struck.

“I was able to survive two disasters in my life. I don’t want to see a third,” he says.

Despite the devastation caused by Charley, Fernandes says people should try to focus on the positive: “that people are alive and that we didn’t have a lot of casualties in this tremendous storm.

“I keep reiterating that we’re all alive, we’re all here, and we’re all healthy,” he says. "That’s a major thing. And a lot of things we lost were, in fact, materialistic and can be replaced,” he adds. “That’s what a lot of people need to focus on right now. I know it could have been worse.”

Fernandes also sees the return on his community efforts in terms any investment banker would understand.

“I believe every good deed turns back to be ten-fold better in my favor,” he says.

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